Lebanon unrest widens amid government, Hezbollah tensions

A strike originally called over high food prices and low wages spirals into confrontation and violence.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has provoked a deepening crisis with the Iranian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah by targeting its security apparatus and an alleged spy network through Lebanon. Mr. Siniora's assertive stand led to violent clashes Wednesday as a general strike ostensibly targeting poor economic conditions was overwhelmed by political divisions, plunging the country into further violence.

The Times of London reports:

The political divide separates, on one side, Siniora's pro-Western government and a coalition of the mainly Sunni Muslim Future group, including the Druze Progressive Socialist Party; and the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah Party and alliance with the Shiite Amal Movement on the other, reports Reuters.

Initially, the general strike had been set to call for higher salaries as a result of rising food prices, and not as a continuation of the 17-month-long political conflict that has divided Lebanon between the pro-Western government and the opposition, says the blog Monsters and Critics:

However, then came the telephone-network crisis, reports Time magazine:

Hezbollah responded angrily to these accusations, saying the attack represented the work of an "Israeli spy."

Clashes between government and opposition forces broke out and the trade unions canceled the strike as it became overwhelmed by political undertones, says the Los Angeles Times:

The Kuwait Times reports that political divisions also manifested themselves along sectarian lines, provoking a response from the head of the Sunni community in Lebanon:

According to analysts, the Siniora government's decision to move directly on Hezbollah assets marks a new tone in the ongoing crisis. "The Lebanese government has decided to throw down the gauntlet to the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, in a bid to crackdown on the group's mushrooming state-within-a-state activities," reports Voice of America.

In an opinion piece, Beirut's pan-Arab daily Dar Al-Hayat says the move against Hezbollah is unprecedented:

Observers now worry that the situation might spiral out of control, says The Times of London:

Reports suggest Hezbollah fighters are planting themselves in Beirut for the long haul after the group announced that street action would continue unless the government stopped its investigation into its telecommunications network and reinstated General Shuqeir.

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